Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain by Robert Winder
Paul Gascoigne: arguably one of England’s most naturally gifted football players in his day (to many: a wasted talent). The tabloids often published his controversies, from alcoholism, domestic violence, bankruptcy and his sometimes yobbish, sometimes xenophobic, childish behaviour. In his prime he was depicted as something of a working class hero lighting up the world stage with his Zidane like skills, and his passionate tears after realizing he’d miss the 1990 World Cup Final if England beat West Germany in the semi-finals when picking up a yellow card. These same tabloids have labelled many countries, the French for example, many insulting, racist names. It then becomes very ironic that Paul Gascoigne, this typical Englishman (or a man who depicts one of the many stereotypes that is an Englishman) and national hero, carried a very French name on the back his shirt. And this is what the book is all about: the many ironies and inaccurcies about the impact of foreigners in Britain, and how no one, truly no one, can call themselves a typical Englishman. Many different aspects of our culture is owed to others around the world. And that’s what I love about it: it’s a cauldron of flavours.
I read the book while working at the Refugee Council. It of course held much relevance for me then. I am now a bloody foreigner in Honduras, and apart from being called a gringo every now and then, and being ripped off by taxis based on my blond hair and blue eyes from time to time, I feel very welcome here. Being a foreigner here sometimes feels like having an elite status as I know that I can get away with things that Hondurans cannot, especially if I were to throw my weight around, which is an embarrassing shame and not something I exploit. In my life, I’ve always embraced foreigners and had a special interest in different cultures. They offer and education, a different perspective of life, which is what this book is also all about; offering an educational and accurate perspective of foreigners in the UK, so often tainted by the press.
I am not a fan of the noun foreigner. It’s not healthy. Take the name of the book. It’s been given a negative undertone, when in reality no human should be labelled a foreigner. Go up to space and look back at Earth, and you’ll see no lines or frontiers. These are man-made creations that have caused wars, racism, class systems, leaving millions dead and many more homeless and stateless. We are all humans and it should be our free right to roam where we like, whether to gain in another country or escape a problem in our own. The word foreigner should be used for culture and seen as something positive, someone from the outside learning about a new society. We should be able to embrace a culture, not be ignored from it based on our country of birth or economic status. Countries are now big tribes and the world elite have now caused what seems like irreversible isssue where nations are manipulated to believe in patronism to a flag and protect economic systems and jobs are more important than a person escaping war, persecution or poverty. No one escapes a country to take an state benefit. They would rather live in peace with their country with their family, back to basics so to speak. The most needy get batoned and blamed by the press and politicians (“swarms of migrants” said the British Prime Minister, David Cameron (a closet racist, I believe)) for unemployment and terrorism; while an affluent foreigner gets welcomed with open arms, especially if there is oil, arms deals and nuclear power stations at stake. I don’t know if it’s a human flaw or the evils of politics, but we have seen it with the Syrian crisis, and it’s a sad reality.
I have strayed somewhat from the book. It looks at immigration into Britain since 1066 (I think, although it’s been a while since I’ve read it) and the different waves of people to grace the country (not to forget the Romans, Vikings, Saxons and Celts before) from the Normans, Huguenots, the earliest black slaves, Russian, German and Polish Jews, sailors, skip a few generations to the Rivers of Blood speeches, Pakistani and Indian and West Indians and Eastern Europeans and the dubious tag, “asylum seeker”, and about the successes and abuses (of British to foreigners). We can thank fish and chips to Portuguese sailors, Polish soldiers in the Battle of Britain and the Jews for Marks & Spencers. Yet foreigners still get the blame.
When I see someone discriminating (and other forms of discrimination, mind) another because of their place of origin, it fires me with anger. Some say it’s ignorance but that’s no excuse. As Maya Angelou notes, “We should show intolerance to ignorance, but understand illiteracy.” Xenophobes and Britain First and UKIP voters should read this and value what foreigners have given to Britain. We are all essentially foreign.
This book didn’t appear in my favourites list just due to the fact that I prefer fiction that little bit more. Maybe reality is some times that little bit more depressing.